Haiti - A History of Dependence
Haiti's long history of poverty and underdevelopment can be traced back to its colonization by the French in the late 17th century. During this time, slaves were imported from Africa to work on plantations in Haiti, leading to a brutal regime of exploitation and abuse. After a long and bloody struggle, Haiti gained its independence in 1804, but the legacy of colonialism and slavery persisted. Haiti’s debt to France for its freedom continues to oppress the economic state. According to the New York Times investigation of just how much Haiti paid for its independence, “Haiti made payments totaling 112 million francs over the course of seven decades or about $560 million in today’s dollars .”
Haiti's economy remained heavily reliant on agricultural exports, particularly sugar, rice, and coffee, which were controlled by a small French-descended elite. In the mid-20th century, the United States began to exert its influence on Haiti, propping up corrupt regimes and encouraging foreign investment. This intervention led to a decline in small-scale farming and local industries, as well as the suppression of political dissent.
Additionally, throughout its history, Haiti has experienced devastating natural disasters (including hurricanes, flooding, diseases, and earthquakes) and man-made crises (gang violence and rule, corruption, extreme inflation, kidnappings, etc.), which have led to an influx of non-governmental aid organizations (NGOs) interjecting their solutions into the country. While many of the organizations have good intentions, their methods have caused significant harm to the people, economy, and culture of Haiti.
One of the most harmful consequences of the aid response to disasters in Haiti has been the flooding of Haiti's market with foreign agricultural goods, particularly rice. As described in 2010 by Courrier International following the devastating earthquake in Port au Prince, “Agriculture was the sector least affected by the January 12 earthquake.” Local prices were driven higher because of “the abundance and unplanned distribution of humanitarian aid in the devastated areas.” Rice subsidies from the US meant to help local farmers and support food security, had the unintended effect of dramatically undermining Haiti's own rice production. This flooded the market with cheap foreign rice, undercutting local farmers and driving them out of business. The result has been a loss of livelihoods and a dependence on foreign aid that has created and perpetuated generational poverty. In April 2023, the World Food Program reported that over 80% of the rice on the Haitian market was imported.
The Solution - Equipping for Self-Reliance
Foreign aid has often resulted in the undermining of local economies. Instead of creating opportunities for growth and development, foreign aid has hurt many small businesses in Haiti. Additionally, foreign support can come with requirements that force the importation of goods from donor countries, further damaging local businesses.
The answer to this is equipping and empowering Haitians to take ownership of their community’s economic infrastructure.
Overture International promotes self-reliance through our Social Support Model that is focused on leadership development within communities, training them to implement 5 Pillars (Education, Housing, Nutrition, Empowerment, Healthcare) that equip families in their communities with services to meet their basic needs. Through this model, community members are provided the tools and resources locals need to start and sustain their own businesses, farming initiatives and markets, creating a sustainable economic infrastructure independent of outside aid. Promoting and investing in this model educates Haitians on what a workable solution looks like and how it can lead to food security and other positive outcomes.
A Case Study - Diri Lavi!
Despite being surrounded by poor infrastructure and other limiting factors, Haitian farmers have historically persevered in their agricultural pursuits. Unfortunately, the lack of access to reliable, sustainable markets for their crops coupled with governmental instability that is unable or unwilling to provide resources, these hardworking agriculturists are struggling to make ends meet.
Foreign aid organizations have sometimes stepped up to help fill the gap between demand and supply, but as noted previously, this is often harmful to the local economy. Unless efforts are made to enhance local sourcing of supplies and strengthen the capacity of farmers, meaningful progress will remain nothing more than an elusive dream.
Overture International has taken a bold step to change this trajectory by joining forces with an aid agency to create a revolutionary initiative to revitalize Haiti's food production capabilities. Diri Lavi! (“Rice for Life” in Haitian Creole) is a food packaging project committed to strengthening nutritional standards and providing economic support in active communities in Haiti.
The ultimate goal: To create an independent and self-sufficient nation through the use of operational facilities in Haiti; jobs for local community members; sourcing rice & beans from local farmers; and packaging with essential vitamins, tackling food insecurity at its root causes.
As of November 2023, more than 200,000 Diri Lavi! meals have been packaged with more than 330,000 pounds each of locally grown and sourced rice and beans, and fed more than 1,000 school children each school day - all led and executed by Haitian community members. Diri lavi! is an example of how effective engagement between aid agencies and local people can promote self-reliance and free Haitian families from poverty, insecurity, and hunger, not just for today but for generations to come.
This program has already been recognized by investors, local officials, and community members for its impact, showing great promise for addressing both immediate needs and creating long-term solutions that could have an immense effect on Haitian communities over time. Similarly, initiatives need to be implemented throughout the country if lasting change is to take place. For more information about Diri Lavi!, visit our website: https://www.overture.international/diri-lavi
So what can be done to end dependence and promote food security in Haiti?
Here are the key steps to making the dream of food security in Haiti a reality:
A comprehensive and strategic plan that outlines the goals and objectives of a food security plan. Such a plan should consider the specific needs and challenges of the local community and be designed with their input.
A focus on human development – providing community members access to education and skills training - with an emphasis in areas that most directly impact food security – to equip them to handle the challenges and opportunities of their growing economy. Investing in skills development is a critical strategy for developing local talent and creating opportunities for entrepreneurship and leadership.
A design for creating an environment that encourages and enables growth in local communities. This environment includes social infrastructure such as education, healthcare, nutrition, and housing. When communities can meet their own basic needs, they then have the ability to focus on developing their potential for growth and innovation in areas like food security.
A plan to build the local economy. This is crucial. This economy provides the necessary resources, tools and education to support local businesses and entrepreneurs involved in areas like farming, food production and distribution, nutrition, etc. This includes a diversified economic infrastructure to avoid relying on a single source of commerce for the community. Access to credit facilities, infrastructure, and markets are other key components of a sustainable local economy that can grow and thrive.
Opportunities for all individuals to participate in the growth of their communities. This is a fundamental aspect of sustainable development. This includes providing equal access to education and training, equal access to healthcare, and opportunities for entrepreneurship, especially in areas of farming, animal husbandry, food distribution, food sales, etc.
In short, shifting from foreign aid to a development approach is not for the faint of heart. Real progress in crisis recovery and in addressing issues such as food insecurity faced by Haitians require a holistic approach: one that takes into account access to resources, social empowerment initiatives, economic development, nutrition education, and spiritual growth.
Specifically, embedding social and spiritual components in human development efforts can result in a de-escalation of violence, empowering local economies and encouraging an outlook focused on long-term goals - all aimed at enabling Haitians to become independent and self-reliant. If you’d like to be part of the solution, you can invest in Overture’s efforts to end food security and empower our friends in southern Haiti by making a donation today.